Billion Dollar Question
Leader of the opposition Lennox Linton in parliament: where is the CBI money?
To hear Lennox Linton, the opposition leader, present his case for an explanation of his perceived discrepancies in earnings from the citizenship by investment (CBI) programme is to conclude that something spivvish – or worse yet, tawdry – is going on.
"We have a big problem, something is not right," Linton told parliament in his response to the budget presented by the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, last week.
Challenging Skerrit's own revelation to parliamentarians that the CBI brought in EC$226 million in the last financial year, Linton pointed to the Official Gazette of 14 March 2019, which reported that 3961 people became economic citizens between August and December last year – five of the first six months of the 2018/19 fiscal year.
Using what some consider as a conservative estimate of US$50,000 per passport, the opposition leader contends that the math suggests that 3961 passports would earn at least US$198 million (EC$537.9 million) during the five-month period and EC$1.291billion for the full year.
"How did we end up with only $226 million, over one billion dollars less?" he asked.
This took government by surprise and rattled the administration, both supporters and opponents of the administration who spoke to The Sun, suggested.
"I don't think there has been a proper explanation on that thing yet. Everybody's giving their own views, but I don't think the government up to now has given a proper explanation," one person closely associated with the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) told The Sun.
Although insisting that Linton ought to have done some more research by checking with senior public officers before going to parliament with this potential bombshell, the DLP insider said Skerrit missed an opportunity to set the record straight immediately after the opposition leader's presentation.
"He [Linton] took them by surprise . . . I think when the prime minister had the opportunity to talk on it [in parliament], I don't think he did that. Why is it there is an amount on the estimate and when you look at the gazette there could be a different amount? Lennox came up with something nobody thought he was about to do, it is so serious that the government needs to make a statement on this," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his position and his relationship with Skerrit, told The Sun.
Similar sentiments were shared by another prominent Dominican who was a strong backer of Skerrit, but who's now working behind the scenes to defeat him in the next general election.
"I don't think they anticipated that," said the person who sought anonymity at present, but plans to appear on the opposition platform when the election campaign begins in earnest. "When Lennox dropped that [bombshell] I would have expected the prime minister to have gotten up and make a statement … [instead] everybody went quiet. So it led me to believe that . . . they didn't expect [it].
While there has been no official government statement on the issue, Skerrit's spokesman, Tony Astaphan, has released a series of videos on social media accusing Linton of dishonesty. In one such video he refers to "regulations that prescribe the fees to be paid to government" by those applying for economic citizenship.
"Not everybody pays $50,000," he asserts, adding that a family of three pays US$35,000, a family of five pays US$50,000 (although he suggested he wasn't entirely sure of the figure or whether it was a family of five or six), and a family of seven pays US$70,000.
However, these figures appear to be at odds with those posted on the CBI's website (http://www.dominicacitizenshipbyinvestment.com), which outlines the fees to be paid by individuals and families of four applying under either the government donation option or the approved real estate option.
According to CBI, a single applicant who chooses the government donation option must pay to the treasury, US$111,325, which includes US$100,000 in monetary contribution to a government fund, US$7,500 due diligence fee, US$3,000 processing fee, US$750 naturalisation fee, US$60 passport fee and US$15 in stamp fees. A family of four (the main applicant, spouse, and up to two children under 18) choosing the same option pays US$221,300 of which US$200,000 is the monetary contribution to the government fund, US$15,000 in due diligence fees, US$3,000 processing fee, US$3,000 in naturalisation fees, US$240 in passport fees and US$60 in stamp fees. There is a US$50,000 fee for each additional dependent.
Individuals who choose the real estate option pay US$236,325 which includes US$200,000 in real estate investment, US$25,000 in additional government fees, along with the other fees outlined in the government donation option. A family of four that chooses this option pays US$256,300, which includes the US$200,000 in real estate investments, US$35,000 in additional government fees, along with the other fees which also apply to families choosing the government donation option.
It is because of these numbers that "I have not fully discounted what Lennox said," the DLP insider told The Sun.
"I heard Tony and watched what he said, and in that video certain things still not clarified. A lot of people still don't understand how that thing works," the person said.
Or, as one Skerrit critic strongly suggested, the CBI numbers suggest that spivs are controlling the passport monies.
"It doesn't matter what figure you use, money is missing, it doesn't add up," the person said. "They [DLP] don't want to hear about that. They want that to go away, but a billion dollars cannot go away."